Saturday, February 28, 2015

Will Warlords Return to China?

China has made great strides in both increasing their GDP to the benefit of their people and in moving toward and advanced economy. Whether or not statistics have been fiddled with, there has been tremendous growth. But what obstacles remain to enjoying this success?

Could civilian-military differences lead to a military-supported coup?

And what happens to China as a political entity if the outcome isn't clean, as the above article speculates?

It is an unlikely outcome, however, because the PLA is divided. Many within it have a stake in Xi’s survival. Far more probable is a scenario in which officers in charge of one of China’s military districts—in Sichuan, say, or perhaps in Jilin—decide that they have tolerated more than enough interference from the central government and declare war. There might be considerable local support for such a move; regional identities remain strong within China and resentment of a rapacious central government is easy to foster. Bo Xilai fell in part because of his popularity in Chongqing. Affordable housing and the idea that he would not let his Chongqingers down made Bo a hero to many locals. Beijing’s arresting him was for many just another example of the central government interfering with Chongqing’s well-being. Capitalizing on local discontent and China’s militia-rized culture, an enterprising military commander could well gather enough strength to challenge Beijing.

Were such a thing to happen, China’s fate could go in one of several different directions. If our imaginary commander were strong enough, an outright seizure of the capital after long, bloody warfare would be one outcome. Mao Zedong, after all, managed to seize power and unify the country after battling a series of foes. But given Xi’s strength, outright victory would be unlikely. Instead, one can expect a bloody stalemate, with the country dividing along north-south lines as old as China itself. “Two Chinas”, to use that dreaded phrase, could emerge. Balkanization might not stop there either. Once other military commands see the possibility of successful defiance, they too might act.

Xi might find that quashing secessionists costs more blood and money than he can get his hands on. China might fall back into a new Warring States or warlord era, in which little fiefdoms spar, subside into coexistence, and then start sparring again.

This is very speculative, as the author says. But with a basis in history, it is at least a subject of speculation.

As I've written before:

With a state both cruel and failing economically, governing a continent-sized population with a history of fragmentation, I don't know why we need to guess which course the government of China will follow. The continent of China is big enough that it could follow all the possible paths.

"Failing" may be defined as failing to grow fast enough to satisfy demands for economic progress rather than recession, but it will be failure enough to matter.

To add to the fun, what if the fear in Chinese ruling circles that they are potentially in a pre-revolutionary situation leads them to push the military too far, thus triggering a civil-military conflict?

Or what if China's rulers seek a "foreign" fight to cement their rule? In their way of thinking that is not the escalation that we might see it as being.

Heck, it might not even be a "foreign" target in their way of thinking.

But no worries. The world is a safer place according to our Secretary of State. That and a buck will get you a (small) cup of coffee, eh?